This should be fun.
One of the few organic rivalries to develop in the modern USL will write a new chapter on Saturday night, when OKC Energy FC visits Phoenix Rising FC. The clubs have a unique history that dates back to then-Arizona United’s inaugural match in 2014, both teams’ first USL season. OKC left Arizona with a 4-0 win in the first of five meetings that year.
Including a wildly entertaining US Open Cup tie, also in 2014, OKC and Phoenix have three wins each, and two draws. Every brand of animosity common in a really good rivalry has presented itself at one time or another in this series, from shouting matches, to fights, to controversial officiating at crucial moments. Each team’s fans have experienced euphoria and despair at various times over the past three years, making this is a can’t-miss occasion for long-time supporters.
On-field results for the two clubs are similar this season. Coached by 2013 MLS Cup-winning goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, OKC comes in with a record of one win, three losses, and a draw. Phoenix has two wins, three losses, and no draws, yet. The Energy are not accustomed to their position near the bottom of the table, having qualified for the USL Playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
OKC’s all-time leading scorer, Danni König, has been largely ineffective since his second-place finish in the 2015 Golden Boot race, and on Wednesday was traded to FC Cincinnati in a move that sees forward Andy Craven return to Oklahoma City after playing just 42 minutes over three appearances for Cincinnati. Craven has served one game of a four-game suspension earned for violent conduct on April 29 at Bethlehem.
So where are the goals coming from? OKC has only three of them on the young season, including the Michael-Harris-flip-throw-Miguel-Gonzalez-bike that captivated the soccer world for the better part of 48 hours last month. The other goals were scored by midfielder Alex Dixon and defender Coady Andrews. Acquired in the offseason from Harrisburg, Spaniard Jose Barril leads the team both in chances created (7) and red cards (2).
This isn’t to say that the Energy are inept. Gonzalez proved over two seasons in Colorado Springs that he is a sly, opportunistic striker who can create various difficulties for a defense. Coy Craft, on loan from FC Dallas, has come close to scoring on occasion, and has the green light from Nielsen to shoot from long range. Phoenix will also need to watch out for Harris and his flip throw.
Rising FC was soundly beaten last Saturday by previously winless Reno 1868 FC, and will not be looking past any opponent, but certainly this is a winnable match for the Firebirds.
Unless significant changes have been made in training this week, Kody Wakasa is returning from red-card suspension, and should reclaim his right back spot. However, Brock Granger was among available substitutes last week for the first time this season, and would not be unwelcome in Wakasa’s place.
Phoenix will need to eradicate the mental errors that were so costly against Reno. With so much skill and experience available, a focus on more deliberate passing and conservative defense could yield dividends, especially in light of the seven goals surrendered over the last hundred minutes or so.
According to comments from club Governor Berke Bakay to Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus, Didier Drogba is not expected to make his debut on the field until May 20 or 27.
The match kicks off at 7:30pm PDT Saturday. It will be broadcast in the Phoenix area by YurView Arizona, and streamed for free at the Match Center on USLSoccer.com.
Phoenix Rising FC (2-3-0) vs OKC Energy FC (1-3-1)
May 13, 2017
Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex